Mcatania21's Reviews > Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
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Mar 07, 12

Read from January 21 to 26, 2012

Unit 5 Discussion Post
Sailing Alone Around the Room, by America’s Poet Laureate Billy Collins is not a typical book of poetry, where readers must hunker down and seriously focus with a dictionary strapped to their side. Collins’ engrossing book can be devoured in an evening, and can even be thought of as a nice beach book because it is pleasurable and entertaining (but not meant to discount it’s ingenuity). His delivery is breezy and conversational so that before you know it, you have finished the book before you actually wanted it to end. The book’s fast and easy free verse makes you feel like you are having a one-on-one conversation with the author in an intimate setting. Collins notices the daily occurrences of life people often ignore and writes about them in vivid detail.

Collins is humdrum, funny, perceptive, and somber in this collection of poems. To examine how he can change tones within one poem, let’s examine: “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep A Gun in the House.” The poem starts out somewhat monotonous; he incorporates ordinary language and repetition: “but I can still hear him muffled under the music/barking, barking, barking.” Then suddenly, his poems hits you midstream with humor: “as if Beethoven had included a part for barking dogs” and “barking dog solo.” And finally, Collins universalizes the poem, to make a poignant observation about a famous musician, “Beethoven as an innovative genius.” This is his signature structural method for pulling us through the poem and creating a short, condensed story that evoke an array of emotions.

Furthermore, Collins has a way of touching on universal themes (time’s passage, tragedy, simple joys, God, sadness, death, afterlife, grief, etc.) through commonplace situations and scenes (the beach, kitchen, library, bar, school, writer’s desk, backyard, etc.).
I’ve pulled out my favorite poetic lines in the book, that I also deem thematic and universal:
“There is nothing like practice to devour the hours of life” (themes: practicing art, time’s passage) - Serenade
“Nothing will be as it was a few hours ago, back in the glorious past.” (themes: regret, time’s passage) – Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern Abbey
Collins also describes the art of writing in new and creative metaphors, which I appreciate and adore as a writer:
“Words are food thrown down on the ground for other words to eat” (themes: words are cannibalistic, greedy, always wanting more) - Workshop
“The unclothed body is autobiography./Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun” (theme: words are connected and fit together; words are natural and mimic real life) – Winter Syntax
Finally, Collins uses simple language to convey complex ideas, and that’s why his poetry feels so accessible and relatable. He has tapped into a reader’s need for clarity while also stimulating curiosity. To put it plainly as Collins often does, he’s a genius.
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